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Calls to extend cervical screening

20 June 2015 14:11

Attendance rates for smear tests drop as women get older

Attendance rates for smear tests drop as women get older

The NHS is facing calls for women over 64 to be screened for cervical cancer, after research showed they account for a fifth of new cases.

There are around 3,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK every year, but once women turn 65 they are no longer included in the screening programme.

However, researchers at Keele University have found that half of deaths from cervical cancer and 20% of the 3,121 new cases diagnosed each year are in women aged over 64.

If caught early enough, cervical cancer is treatable and women who have been diagnosed with the disease can still travel abroad thanks to cancer travel insurance.

'Lack of knowledge'

Another report by the charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust found there is a lack of understanding about the disease, which appears to be contributing to a decline in the number of women aged between 50 and 64 attending screenings.

Nearly all cases of the disease are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).

However, three in five women in this age group are not aware of this, and many do not realise that the virus can lay dormant for many years and develop into cervical cancer later in life.

The smear test is offered to women aged from 25 to 64 on the NHS, but figures show there is a significant drop in the attendance rate as they get older.

In England last year, it fell from 82% of 50 to 54 year-olds to 75% of 55 to 59 year-olds, and 73% of 60 to 64 year-olds.

Jade Goody

Following the death of reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009, there was a rise in people getting tested for cervical cancer - which is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35 - but numbers have declined since.

Health experts are concerned that if attendance rates continue to decline among older women, more will face a later stage diagnosis and could die from the disease.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust wants to see other ways to increase uptake, and is calling for more research into a self-administered urine test for HPV, which women can carry out at home.